Current Affairs Politics

Israel’s Journey From Jewish State To Pariah State

Israeli soldiers pray before a Torah, southern Israel, 2012 (AP Photo - Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldiers pray before a Torah, southern Israel, 2012 (AP Photo – Ariel Schalit)

Are there any issues more divisive in “Western” political discourse than the existence, history and policies of the modern nation-state of Israel? Outside of the United States and a few other countries nothing seems to divide people as much as discussing the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian struggle, with majority opinion very much aligning on the side of the latter (at least in recent years). Since it’s disastrous misadventures in the Lebanon and the First Intifada in the 1980s, the so-called Jewish State has been on a downward spiral into the sort of collective religio-nationalist irrationalism that one formerly associated with some of its regional neighbours. Progressive strands in the American-backed territory have been sidelined or subsumed by their conservative opponents so that even nominally Left mainstream voices bear little relation to their political antecedents of the 1940s, ’50s and 1960s. Contemporary society in Israel can with a fair degree of equanimity embrace figures expressing avowedly sectarian, racist or authoritarian views, up to and and including those in positions of authority. In that at least the Jewish State bears some resemblance to sections of the domestic culture of its superpower sponsor, though as we have seen in recent years – and days – even that is undergoing a generational change for the better.

Such things make it incredibly difficult for liberal-minded individuals in sympathy with Israel to express their support for the Middle Eastern nation, let alone defend it. As the Jewish State of the late 20th century has wilfully become a Pariah State of the early 21st century it has cast aside any residual leftish glamour it may have once (perhaps questionably) possessed. While in the closed bubble of Washington-Jerusalem relations vociferous criticism may be rare – despite the oh-so tentative concerns of the Obama White House – for the rest of the world being antipathetic to Israel has increasingly become the norm of popular culture. One could no more be unquestionably effusive about Israel than one could be of Putin’s Russia.

Max Blumenthal, author of “The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza”, in a Q&A with Salon on what may be the guiding determinant in Israel’s dealings with the Palestinian people, and those inhabiting the Gaza Strip in particular:

“Arnon Soffer is a chief adviser on demographic engineering — i.e., how to forcibly engineer a Jewish majority in areas under Israeli control — to successive Israeli governments. He conceived of not only the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, but also the separation wall. In each case, he said that they wouldn’t lead to greater national security for Israel, but they would lead to the maintenance of a Jewish [demographic] majority. He’s obsessed with maintaining a threshold of 70 percent. His last name, Soffer, means “counter” in Hebrew; so his colleagues at Haifa University refer to him as “Arnon, the Arab Counter.”

Listen to his words. As he was explaining the need for the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, he said, “When 2.5 million people live in a closed off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. These people will be even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane, fundamentalist Islam. Pressure at the border will be awful; it’s going to be a terrible war. If we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”

He said that to the Jerusalem Post — and this is when he was a close adviser to Sharon. Sharon credited Soffer with convincing him to disengage [from the Gaza Strip]. It was printed in Israel, but not in the U.S.. I don’t endorse Soffer’s racist language or ideology, but what he said has come true. What we saw last summer with Operation Protective Edge was the fulfillment of his bloody prophecy: “kill, and kill, and kill every day.” That is what the Israeli army did for 51 days.”

And no doubt will continue to do so again until the goal of the Israeli “deep state” is reached:

“The war was an extension of an ongoing campaign to destroy the Palestinian national movement. It’s what the Israeli sociologist Barruch Kimmerling called “politicide,” which is the destruction of an entire political identity. He’s extrapolating out of the term “genocide,” which is the destruction of an entire people. I think it’s a really accurate distillation of the long-term Israeli strategy.”

Unfortunately, and reluctantly, so do I.


3 comments on “Israel’s Journey From Jewish State To Pariah State

  1. eileen healy

    The well used phrase of “two wrongs don’t make a right ” wasa favourite of my parents when minor childhood squabbles occurred. At best the media coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict gave that treatment to what was not an argument over penny-bars . In order to display “balanced coverage” television channels including our national channel would maybe show Palestinian kids hurdling stones at Israeli soldiers followed by a statistic that showed the Israeli s in a bad light, Of course for security reasons physical violence on behalf of the IDF could be restricted There is I think a shift from that approach to one that is slightly more sympathetic towards the Palestinian people in recent times The Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign outlines this in the following link

    American bestselling author Leon Uris probably tinged the perspective of many growing up in the 60s,70s and 80s especially before the advent of multi channel television and the arrival of the Internet
    EXODUS and TRILOGY were big sellers here and probably gained certain readership from his publication on conflict in this country, albeit fictional

    As a writer, Uris was a considerable spokesman for American Jews. Critics winced at his status as “master storyteller”, but readers found in his books a world of vivid causes, largely new to popular US culture. He mixed non-fiction, mainly political and historical exposition, with artless dialogue spouted by sterotyped characters. Through flashbacks inserted in the narrative, he told his readers, in some detail, about the “living history” of Israel, and its nearly-forgotten roots in the Balfour Declaration, the Dreyfus case and the hard life of Jews in Tzarist Russia.

    Like Herman Wouk, who had a similar passion for contemporary historical storytelling, Uris could stimulate and move his readers by a vivid dramatisation of the Warsaw ghetto (in Mila 18, 1961), the Berlin airlift (in Armageddon, 1963), or the 1956 Sinai campaign (in Mitla Pass, 1988), while giving them a sense that they were encountering the presence of the past.

    He was, in truth, an educator of the American public in the Zionist interpretation of modern Jewish history. The deep tradition of non-violence in Jewish tradition was swept aside in his muscular reinterpretations of the modern Jewish identity. Many other cultural stereotypes – the learned Jew, the pious Jew, and the streetwise Jew as entrepreneur – were similarly dismissed.
    Americans responded to Paul Newman in the 1960 film of Exodus, playing the role of the sensitive, suntanned, Uzi-toting Jew as fighter. Uris’s aim was spelled out at the end of Armageddon: “Just keep the arms coming

    A best selling author from Australia known for The Shoes of the Fishermen and many more that receive d movie treatment is less well known for his publication The Tower of Babel which though it’s set back some decades gives good background to the events in early part of conflict It is also fiction but got a recent interesting review on an online book site
    If this is your first read of any of Morris West’s works you may have made a mistaken choice. West’s awesome insights, from a unique perch and an extraordinary frame of reference into the horrific complexities of the Mideast way back before the so-called ISIS conundrum should embarrass the US State Department inept understanding of the profound historical factors fashioning today’s knee-jerk policy regarding the five hundred year miasma of tribe-to-tribe antagonisms, the reading will be an intense jolt.
    West brings a profundity of insight that could probably turnoff today’s “quick and dirty” genre readers, but might just snare those readers seeking something of substance, interest and relevance.
    West’s works ought to be “required reading” for all US State Department employees, especially those missioned to develop “policy” regarding those too many areas on our planet about which we know little or nothing of the harsh realities that “policy” afflicts with horrendous consequences.
    This book is an infectious moral challenge, and many will put it down, rather than face those challenges. Which is not bad, just real. The depicted realities of the moral quandaries portrayed by West can only make a serious reader uncomfortable- but insightfully informed. And that alone is is worth the reading experience.

    A close relative worked as an independent observer in Palestine a few years ago so maybe I’m little biased, but I don’t think so and neither does David Norris

    I think he puts it very we here


    • Thanks, Eileen. There is an article I linked to some time ago examining the “muscular” view of Israel in the US, shaped by literature and Hollywood, which echoes your own points. I will try and dig it up.

      Funny to say, I kinda liked Uris’ Irish books, though they were as every bit as romanticised as his Israeli ones, though more ambiguous (the latter were more explicitly heroic). Of course I was about 15 when I read them while on a summer holiday in Cork with nothing in the house but “thrillers” or big historical sagas to read. I remember reading “By the Rivers of Babylon” by Nelson DeMille that same fortnight and enjoying that more.


  2. eileen healy

    Enjoyed Uris’ books also, and still have a copy of QB VII which I bought having seen Anthony Hopkins play the part of the accused doctor A great deal of my interests would probably have been initially sparked by a good historical novel or film .I would then go off and check out the facts not always easily available or unbiased.
    Yes ” there are many Jewish people working in the Hollywood film industry “.
    To state it in any way that’s truly reflective would generate accusations of Anti -Semitism
    There was a particular kind of American radio comedy in the past which consisted of Jewish comedians making jokes about themselves ( mostlyNew York Jewish)They weren’t self-depracating but were quite funny and based on personal experience and observations. Don’t think that they would travel well , certainly not today!
    Have seen a few YouTube clips of Sammy Sugar, think it was one of the suggestions while looking at Omid Djalili. The performances would have had multicultural audiences and jokes which out of context might have been offensive seemed to go down well . I have heard recently that he
    was accused of being racist
    Can’t say I know enough to debate that one!


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